Space & Planetary Science: March 2016 Archives

John Newcomb

NASA Langley Engineer and Author John Newcomb Dies

"An engineer at NASA's Langley Research Center during the critical Apollo years and those that successfully landed Viking on Mars, John Foster Newcomb passed away March 10, 2016. In the early heady days of space exploration, Newcomb worked on the Lunar Orbiter Project which placed five Lunar Orbiters around the moon, a mission critical to the success of the Apollo Project. The Lunar Orbiters photographed and mapped the moon, giving researchers insight into the best potential landing sites for the crewed Apollo missions."

Keith's note: John Newcomb and I recently exchanged voicemails about his book but never managed to talk. I wanted to talk to him about his Lunar Orbiter experiences. He spoke at NASA HQ just last week - but NASA does not tell people about these events. Now he is gone. Dammit. I'm glad he was able to write this book and speak to people about it such that we know what it was like to do crazy things that no one has ever done before.

NASA Targets May 2018 Launch of Mars InSight Mission

"NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to study the deep interior of Mars is targeting a new launch window that begins May 5, 2018, with a Mars landing scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018. InSight project managers recently briefed officials at NASA and France's space agency, Centre National d'tudes Spatiales (CNES), on a path forward; the proposed plan to redesign the science instrument was accepted in support of a 2018 launch."

Keith's note: According to this release "The cost of the two-year delay is being assessed. An estimate is expected in August, once arrangements with the launch vehicle provider have been made." That is 6 months away. But NASA is already going ahead with this plan without knowing what the actual cost impact will be. Nor has any plan been released with regard to who pays for all of these delays. But, due to the way that MOUs are crafted between space agencies, no money ever changes hands. As such, U.S. taxpayers will ultimately be stuck for the delay costs that are the direct result of French mistakes. In addition, no one from NASA will talk about the impact of these additional costs will have on other missions awaiting selection - nor has anyone bothered to explain how this decision affects subsequent missions such as Mars 2020 or missions currently in operation at Mars. More creative budgeting on the #JourneyToMars.

NASA Mars woes could delay other planetary missions, Nature

"Some wonder if the mistake may cause NASA to tighten the reins on future projects. The most recent call for Discovery proposals, made before the problem with InSight occurred, mandated that no more than one-third of instrument costs could be spent on foreign sources. "The word on the street is that NASA's a little more wary of collaborating with groups that they don't know so well or don't control directly," says Elkins-Tanton."

Exclusive photos: Clouds seen on Pluto for first time, New Scientist

"There has been no public mention of the clouds, suggesting that the team isn't sure about the detection. In February emails, the team discussed a paper due to be published in the journal Science entitled "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" which only mentions clouds in passing, as an as yet-unsolved mystery. But an email sent by John Spencer of the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, on 1 March includes a picture (see top of article) of a cloud that seems to stand out from the surface. "In the first image an extremely bright low altitude limb haze above south-east Sputnik on the left, and a discrete fuzzy cloud seen against the sunlit surface above Krun Macula (I think) on the right," he wrote. ... The emails suggest that the top cloud image has only just been downloaded from New Horizons."

Keith's update: According to the NASA New Horizons PAO rep: "To be clear, no New Horizons personnel broke a news embargo on the Pluto "clouds" story. A listserv used to internally email team members was mistakenly left public and was discovered by New Scientist. The website published imagery and email exchanges without NASA or New Horizons' knowledge or coordination, and before the data had been fully analyzed and confirmed. The email listserv is no longer publicly accessible, and the data remain under scientific review."

My response: "You just admitted that someone made information public. Whether deliberate or by mistake they broke their own embargo."

FWIW if the New Horizons team had submitted a paper "The Atmosphere of Pluto as Observed by New Horizons" to Science magazine then you can be certain that the editors of Science will want the authors to hold all information about that paper under an internal embargo - even before anything is provided (under embargo) to news media. But ... if the authors discuss this paper in a public forum - outside of any media embargo - well, the authors broke that internal embargo and made it public. And it is fair game for news media to cover. Kudos to New Scientist for discovering this news!


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This page is an archive of entries in the Space & Planetary Science category from March 2016.

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